Herb Brooks, the embattled coach of the New York Rangers, sat in the press box at Capital Centre last night while assistants Wayne Thomas and Carol Vadnais handled the bench duties. Brooks had flu and did not want to spread germs among a team already decimated by injuries.

If Brooks was sick when he arrived, watching last night's contest was not geared to make him feel better. The Washington Capitals jumped to a two-goal lead in the first seven minutes and kept the red light flashing all night to crush the Rangers, 7-1.

Bob Carpenter and Larry Murphy each scored twice as Washington won its fourth straight and maintained its hold on first place in the Patrick Division. Carpenter has 35 for the season.

Goalie Pat Riggin blocked 25 shots, several on breakaways as his teammates loosened up with the lead, and earned his 17th victory of the season. Aiding Riggin was defenseman Scott Stevens, who blocked several shots and cleared the Rangers away from the net, besides setting up two Washington goals.

A sellout crowd of 18,130 enjoyed the proceedings, while adding to Brooks' misery by taunting him as he sat, holding his head.

Brooks did not appear for the usual postgame press conference, leaving Thomas to state the obvious: "For the past three months, they've been the hottest team in the league and they didn't give us a chance tonight."

Carpenter put Washington ahead to stay at 5:29 of the first period, beating goalie Glen Hanlon from the deep slot with a low shot on the glove side. He was alone because Stevens lured most of the defenders in his direction by faking a slap shot from the left point before making a perfect pass.

"I try to do that a fair bit," Stevens said. "When you fake a shot, you can usually get the guy to go down. After I faked it, I went around him (Reijo Ruotsalainen) and then Bobby yelled. Everybody sucked to my side and Bobby was wide open. When Bobby gets the puck in that situation, he usually scores."

Another outstanding play, this time by Bengt Gustafsson, helped Bob Gould post his 10th goal for a 2-0 lead at 6:38. Gustafsson made a quick touch pass along the left wing boards, taking defender James Patrick out of the play.

Dave Christian hustled in to pick up the puck and inaugurate a two-on-one break with Gould. When the remaining defenseman, Ron Greschner, committed toward Christian, he fed the unguarded Gould for a tap-in. The assist, first of two for Christian, extended his scoring streak to 11 games.

Ranger Grant Ledyard halved the deficit with a drive from the right point, but before the first period ended, Darren Veitch rebuilt the margin with his season's third goal.

Doug Jarvis started that one with a solid check on Patrick against the rear boards. Patrick hurried his pass, and the puck was picked off by Veitch and deposited in the net as Craig Laughlin screened Hanlon.

The Capitals wrapped things up with a three-goal second period that included the most spectacular score of the night. That was provided by Gartner, who escaped Barry Beck's hook with a leap that would have done credit to a barrel jumper, maintained his balance and put a low shot past Hanlon.

Murphy's first goal came on a drive from the right point, deflected on its way toward the net by Ranger Mark Pavelich.

With eight seconds left in the period, Gartner fought himself free from a clutching Mike Rogers and passed to Carpenter in front. The puck struck Carpenter's knee and caromed into the net, followed almost instantly by Carpenter, who was hooked by Patrick.

"It hit me in the leg, got up in the air and went in," Carpenter said. "The puck was in before I went in."

"I held off Rogers with one hand and kept my other hand on the stick," Gartner said. "When Hanlon came out, I was able to get the pass away. Bobby paid the price to make the goal. He went through the net and through everything."

Murphy completed the scoring from close range on a third-period setup by Laughlin. It was Murphy's second two-goal game of the season and his second straight plus-four game.

Both Carpenter and Murphy put two shots on goal thereafter without completing a hat trick. Murphy seemed to have a good opportunity with Hanlon out of the net, but he could not slip away from Pierre Larouche.

"Larouche followed me from our blueline," Murphy said. "He just watched me, nothing else. I was hoping to slide in, because I've never had a hat trick in the NHL, but it was a case of close, no cigar."

In the last minute, with Washington already a man short, Carpenter received a virtually meaningless major penalty for slashing Tomas Sandstrom. It was the 21st major charged to the Capitals this season and 10 have come in the six games against New York. Sandstrom has been involved in three incidents, the other two with Stevens.

"Sandstrom drove his stick right through me," said Carpenter, displaying the mark on his stomach. "It's lucky I saw him coming at me and was able to turn away. If he puts the spear right in me, I could be hurt bad. I just wanted to let him know not to do it again."